Malaysia Aims to Break China's Monopoly on Rare Earth MetalsMarch 9, 2011 0 Comments
Malaysia seeks to build the world's largest refinery of strategic metals. When completed, the plant will be the first such refinery built outside of China in nearly three decades.
As the Times article states, the $230 million project is an enormous gamble because refining rare earth metals leaves behind thousands of tons of radioactive waste, and its still unsure how that reality will be dealt with. Since environmental political groups are very powerful in the West, we don't build refineries here. So up till now, the world has been content to leave the "dirty work" to China which operates many barely regulated refineries and has created vast toxic waste sites in its own territory. In return for this sacrifice, they now control around 97% of the world's supply of strategic materials crucial for almost every high-tech gadget imaginable, including smartphones, electric cars and the U.S. military's smart bombs.
In recent months, China has openly begun using their control of strategic metals as a trade weapon, imposing a brief embargo on Japan over an island dispute, and then also against the United States and Europe, sending researchers worldwide scrambling to find alternative materials.
When Malaysia's plant is finished within 2 years, it will be able to supply a third of the world's demand, generating roughly $1.7 billion in revenue.
Photo by Rahman Roslan of the NY Times